23 March 2011
Posted in Books and Poetry
US judge says company has gone 'too far'
Google's plans to create a huge online library of scanned books have been dealt a blow by an American court ruling rejecting a legal settlement with authors and publishers that Google reached in 2008.
The judge's ruling spoke of the possible benefits of the library project but he expressed concerns that it had gone 'too far' and would give Google too much competitive advantage from using copyrighted work without explicit permission.
One possible remedy, the judge suggested, would be for authors' participation to be on the basis on opting-in to the project rather than, as proposed under the deal agreed between the US Authors' Guild and Google, them having to choose to opt-out.
Responding to news of the ruling, Writers' Guild of Great Britain General Secretary Bernie Corbett said:
'I doubt this is the end of the story, but it was predictable that a case affecting millions of authors all over the world would get bogged down in the US courts, even though the original litigants were all prepared to settle.'In principle there are great benefits both to humanity and to individual authors if out-of-print books can become available, with payments to authors when they are used. Google certainly played fast and loose with copyright laws, but in the digital age authors probably have to accept that they can no longer prevent their works being made available – they will have to concentrate on making sure they get paid, they are credited as the writer, and their works are not tampered with in a derogatory way.
'As mega-corporations go, Google is far from the worst – compare its track record with the Murdoch empire or the banking industry. But any company can change hands, and in the end the joint heritage of humankind belongs to everybody. It is up to governments and international treaties to balance the legitimate interests of readers and writers – perhaps the forthcoming Hargreaves Report on UK copyright, or proposals expected this year from the European Union, will help to point the way.
'It is noteworthy that the most prominent objections to the Google project came not from authors whose books were out of print but from successful, high-profile authors who are never likely to trouble the pulping mills. With few exceptions, authors want their works to live on and be enjoyed. This goes for films and TV programmes as well as books, and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is close to agreement with the BBC on a new system that will enable its vast archives, dating back to the birth of radio and television, to be resurrected online – with payments to the writers, of course.'